Kaṭṭhahāraka Sutta (SN 7:18)
The poetic exchange in this discourse emphasizes the difference between appearances and actual vision. The brahman addressing the Buddha speaks in terms of conjecture and uses three compounds containing the word “rūpa,” or “appearance”—gambhīra-rūpa, sucāru-rūpa, and acchera-rūpa (deep-looking, very-lovely-looking, and amazing-looking). The Buddha, however, emphasizes not his appearance but what he sees. What’s important about him is not how he looks to others, but how he looks at things.
Another contrast is that, whereas the brahman conjectures about the goal the Buddha is striving for in the wilderness—attaining the heavens of the Brahmās—the Buddha points out that he has already arrived at a goal that is hidden even to Brahmās.
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On one occasion the Blessed One was staying among the Kosalans in a certain forest grove. Then a large number of firewood-gathering youths—students of a certain brahman of the Bhāradvāja clan—went to the forest grove. On arrival, they saw the Blessed One sitting in the grove—his legs folded crosswise, his body set straight, mindfulness established to the fore. On seeing him, they went to the brahman of the Bhāradvāja clan and, on arrival, said to him, “Sir, you should know that Gotama the contemplative is in that grove over there, sitting with his legs folded crosswise, his body set straight, mindfulness established to the fore.
So the brahman of the Bhāradvāja clan, together with the youths, went to the forest grove. On arrival, he saw the Blessed One sitting in the grove—his legs folded crosswise, his body set straight, mindfulness established to the fore. On seeing him, he went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, addressed him in verse:
“In the deep-looking forest,
teeming with terrors,
having plunged into the wilderness
unflinchingly, steadfastly, compellingly,
you practice jhāna, monk:
How very lovely you look!
Where no song is sung,
where no music is played,
alone in the wilderness:
the forest-dwelling sage.
This looks amazing to me—
that you live alone in the forest
with rapturous mind.
I suppose it’s in longing
for the three heavens unexcelled,
in the company of the ruling lord of the worlds,
that, staying here in the wilderness, desolate,
you practice austerities
for attaining Brahmā.”
“Whatever the longings or delights
to various levels of being,
or yearnings born
from the root of unknowing:
I’ve destroyed them all,
down to the root.
with purified vision
with regard to all things,
having reached self-awakening,
practice jhāna hidden from Brahmā,
1. In the PTS edition of the Pali Canon, this last line reads, jhāyām’ahaṁ brāhmaṇa raho vissārado—“I practice jhāna, brahman, in seclusion, matured.” This, however, does not fit in with the rhythm of the verse, and so for that reason I have followed the Thai edition here—jhāyām’ahaṁ brahma-raho visārado—which does fit in with the rhythm. This reading also has the advantage of providing a neat contrast to the reference to Brahmā in the brahman’s last line
The compound brahma-raho, “Brahmā-private,” can be read in either of two ways: either private like a Brahmā or private to—i.e., hidden from—Brahmā. The first reading would simply convey the fact that the practice of jhāna puts one in a mental state equivalent to a Brahmā. The second reading points to the fact that the Buddha, in having gained awakening, meditates in a way that even Brahmās cannot perceive or understand. I have chosen this latter reading because it parallels the message in AN 11:10.